Maybe things were getting a bit better, at least everyone from area 50 (except for the sneaky Tiamone) had gathered together in a meeting to discuss what was in everyone’s heart desire: escape; rather than sulk around in one’s room just waiting for their death call. It was much of an improvement. And maybe I overreacted a little when Apex had invited Shard to the meeting. Actually, I hadn’t just overreacted; I was belligerently against it. I had expressed my opinion and Apex disregarded it and even defended Shard, assuring us that he trusted the murderous bastard, the same guy who had run his arm-turned-to-blade through Apex’s body in order to kill his opponent. Memories of my first battle came into view and how Tyson had inserted his blade deep into my abdomen. Is this what I get for trying to protect Apex from Shard, a patronizing scold?
It didn’t matter anymore, Shard was in and that was as far as I allowed our relationship to be. Besides, it was pathetic of me to wish this, but I desperately wanted Apex’s favour and if trusting Shard was going to get me closer to renewing our “friendship”, then so be it. It was cumbersome to avoid him and have him hate me all the time.
I followed Visp to the dining room after the meeting. He went for a glass of water and asked me if I wanted one, which I accepted. I sat on a stool by the kitchen island when he handed me the cool glass. Our fingers touched and I didn’t feel the heavenly taste of petrichor, it was a more dampened taste, much like his mood lately. Actually, much like everyone’s mood, except for Shard and Tiamone’s. The taste of the general atmosphere was of scorching desert, gathering winds before a monsoon, and the noon sun perched high on the sky on a summer day. What was up with these three, had I missed something? Their clammy and humid tastes (heightened by the proximity of Visp) weighed down on my mood to the point of exasperation.
“Good gracious Visp,” I said, “your taste is so suffocating right now.” I grabbed a magazine and fanned myself. The asphyxiating sensation was all mental, but it felt so real.
“Never mind. Is there something you want to talk about?”
He seemed to consider it. The way his face was set whenever he was pensive was very attractive and I just wanted to stare at his bright green eyes. However I couldn’t, his sunken taste was like an ominous presence.
“Well, there are a couple of things I’d like to ask you...” He finally said. “First and foremost, whatever we discuss stays with us, no running off and telling someone else.”
I shrugged. “Fine by me.” I tried to hide my excitement, to reign in my imagination from going into wild romantic fantasies and scenarios. Maybe Visp was going to say that he felt something for me. I didn’t mean to sound conceited, but I had to admit I am very beautiful.
“Do you think Apex is handsome?”
My left eyebrow shot upward and my mouth hung open. I saw the questioning look on Visp face and immediately gather the strands of composure I had left. His question had caught me off guard.
“Uhm, well...I...maybe he is good looking, but I won’t say impressively handsome...” I so wanted to tell him that he was the handsome one. “...I can’t be objective about it, he’s my childhood friend, well, sort of is..or rather, was...” The answer seemed not to satisfy Visp, so I went with the truth. “Okay, yeah, he is handsome, but so are you!”
Oh how I wished to claw those words back.
“Well, at least you and Newt seem to have the same opinion about him.” Visp seemed unhappy about something.
“Why don’t you ask her, she’s coming our way.” I offered, sensing Newt quietly coming to the kitchen.
“I think I have to go, need to flesh out our escape plan. I hope you can experiment with the idea you’re working on and let us know how it went. See you.” Visp scurried to his room when Newt walked into the kitchen.
“Hey Lorrie.” Newt looked like she was in a continuous state of insomnia. “How inconsiderate of me, I forgot to ask you how were your wounds and bones healing?”
“I’m okay, didn’t go unconscious like you did and refused to have Apex carry me to my room.” I had silently envied Newt when Visp came rushing to her and offered to carry her to her room and look after her when I dragged her out of the arena after our duel.
“Visp can be so sweet sometimes, and it devastates me that he looks so gloom. I’m going to make him hot chocolate with the hopes that it’ll make him feel better.” Newt said and immediately went to work.
I seldom feel jealousy, but the way Newt was taking care of Visp and making him hot chocolate rubbed me the wrong way. I was supposed to be the one taking care of him, not Newt. Apex entered the kitchen too and I felt like I was literally walking on hot sand. Newt had ceased her work and was staring at the floor, avoiding any type of visual contact with Apex. I looked from Apex to Newt.
“What is the matter between you two?” I asked, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. Their taste had become unbearable, I had to get out of here.
Newt lifted her face to speak, then caught Apex looking at her and lowered her eyes, which I could see were moist. It wasn’t hard to figure out the rest. Apex could be so scathing with what he said sometimes, even when he was oblivious of it. He seemed like he wanted to talk to Newt, but decided against it and left.
I watched him leave and noticed how he had grown since I last saw him five years ago. He was still a boy, barely a teenager, and now he was entering adulthood. I reminisced the first time I spoke to him, I was nine and he was eleven and it happened in the alley behind the abandoned elementary school. Some older city kids were tormenting two girls, snipping away their beautiful, long strands of hair with scissors. Apex had burst out of nowhere, tackling the first kid to the ground. The attention was shifted to Apex as he led the boys away from the girls. I helped the girls stand and shooed them away, then followed the raucous cries of fight. I saw Apex go down five times and stand up four. He was bruised, tired, and bleeding. I just watched from the sidelines, out of view, transfixed, wishing the other kids would stop kicking him, wishing I had the courage to jump between them. The clouds seemed to bleed when the kids left, the sun barely a sliver of orange above the horizon.
Apex was on the ground, panting, gritting his teeth, forcing his cries down his throat. I came out of hiding and knelt beside him, cradling his hand in mine. His left eye was swollen when he looked at me and I was surprised to find some tenderness in them despite his rough fight. We had stared at each other for the longest time before I broke the silence.
“Please, bend to their will and you’ll get less hurt.”
“No.” He said, simple and cold.
From that day onwards, I decided to follow him around and he never once told me to go away.
The day I was kidnapped, the first person who came to my mind right after my parents was Apex.
“He’s a jerk, Newt,” I said, breaking the silence that had befallen on the kitchen. “And a stubborn one too.”
Newt blinked the tears away and busied herself with the hot chocolate. When she was done, she took it to Visp’s room. But before she exited the kitchen completely she turned to me and said, “Lorrie, Apex doesn’t hate you.”
I was still staring in the direction Newt had disappeared. “What was that supposed to mean?” I pondered.
“The request cannot be completed; you are only allowed to exit the area when a battle is taking place. The next battle takes place in thirty minutes.” The automated voice at the entrance door repeated for the fifth time I tried phasing through the door just to find it as physical as ever. The door had similar composition to the force field, the difference was that the door didn’t throw you back, just repeated the message over and over again. I gave up and waited. Maybe Apex could hack the door too.
After thirty minutes, I was roaming through the hallways of the compound, lazily finding my way to the arena to watch the duo battles. I meandered in my path several times, tracking the hallways with my mind and sensing people to avoid crossing their paths. The corridors seemed maze-like, if we escaped, we could easily get lost with no sense of direction. But I had my psychic navigation powers, which enabled me to create a mental picture of the place and know where there are dead ends. However, my power range did not cover disabling cameras. That was going to be a huge problem. The closer I got to the arena, the more cheering and noises I heard. A huge crowd was garnered today, I glimpsed at the schedule from the screen.
Ah, of course, area 34, my old area.
I thought walking through the hallways could get me a clearer picture of the compound and how to get from the top floors to the sewers downstairs. My knowledge of the place was this: the ground and top floors were occupied by the arena and the individual areas, the floors below us were mostly administrative, below that the sewer, and below that my mind had limited access. All I know was that the place was dark and dank and top secret since I could feel very few life forces down there. The rest of the space was something I’d never felt before, it wasn’t human yet it was alive...breathing and with powers coursing through its existence. I shuddered and withdrew my mind from the depths. We only needed to know a way to the sewers.
The sewer was actually built to be a storm water drainage system, it was a hollowed, abandoned tunnel built just to satisfy building codes requirements that Earth had imposed on Mars when the colony was established. Little did Earth know that there was no rain in Mars. The tunnel had existed way before superpowers inc. had bought this piece of land and never put into use. It ended somewhere in the middle of the barren wasteland beyond the concrete Martian wall. Once we were in the dark tunnel everything was easy from there on, but the problem was getting there without being detected. A massive escape was difficult, yes, but we can hardly leave all these kids here and it was a good distraction. But if there was a way out, we could come in the same way and sneak out the other kids.
I searched with my mind other possible routes to the drainage system and located one, just below the arena’s ground. I made my way to the arena but didn’t join the audience; instead, I went to the preparation hall, the room before the combatants walked into the arena. There were nine of these said halls, each connecting to the nine doors around the circumference of the stadium, opening to the arena. I remembered the hall well, it was the place to go when you’re about to get into battle and you see it again if you survived. Nobody else was allowed at any other time. It wasn’t heavily guarded so I walked in but took precautions nonetheless, plastering my slender frame against the cold concrete wall. The hall was dark, too dark even for cameras to capture anything. Maybe they had heat detectors, had to ask Apex to take a look.
I found that there were three tunnels leading somewhere underground and I was standing inside one. There had to be a trapdoor somewhere. I started feeling the walls for a loose stone. I heard footsteps coming my way and quickly drew a breath and phased through the wall. I was knocked to the ground. Anything that came within a certain distance of the force field absorbed a bit of it, thus negating my powers.
Two guards were upon me, confirming my theory of the heat sensors in the hall.
“What are you doing here? This is the last battle of the day; nobody should be in the halls.”
I stood and brushed myself. “Sorry, my friends are fighting right now. I just wanted to be the first to congratulate them when they go through this door.”
The guards snickered at the word 'friends'.
“Sure, everybody wants to make 'friends' here.” He said then shoved me out of the hall. “Get going, no exceptions. And a piece of advice, don’t make friends, you’ll all end up dead anyway.” They laughed and I used all my willpower to control my psychic navigation from taking their putrid life forces and ripping them apart. In the end I just walked away.
I walked aimlessly for a few minutes since there was no point going anywhere else. There were cameras everywhere; our only option was the hall that connected to the arena. I had seen a tunnel that lead to the storm drain, the pathway was steep and stairs lined the wall. The trapdoor was small, just enough for us to crouch into it and then descend the stairs. We just had to find the loose stone.
Without knowing where I was going, I walked into the courtyard, the same courtyard I sought Visp’s taste for solace and strength so long ago. Only I wasn’t alone, there were some rowdy men just a few feet from me, huddled together and laughing rather loudly. They were the veterans, stuck in here for too long, rejoicing in the mirth of a kill. And they spotted me and had the nerve to wolf whistle. I shot them a look that read ‘don’t mess with me or I’ll bite your head off’ and turned to leave.
Judging by the footsteps behind me, I guessed they didn’t get my message. The four of them surrounded me, eyeing me from head to toe.
“You can’t kill me.” I intoned every syllable with stealth. “I know your type and you won’t risk getting killed by killing someone outside the arena.” I had sense their up-to-no-good life forces, foul and rotten.
“We don’t plan on killing you.” One of them leered. “We plan to have as much fun with you without hurting you too much. You’re a pretty one and you smell delightful. Let me have a bite.”
He lunged at me, his arms stretched out. I sidestepped him and swung my arm. My elbow connected with his back. He was lying on the ground, cursing. I turned on my spot and swung my leg to the one on my left. He ducked it, giving me a space to jump through. As soon as I was out of their circle I ran. I could lose them in the maze of the hallways.
“Not so fast!”
I felt something slimy and fetid wrap around my throat, subduing me to the ground. I traced the reddish object to the owner and was repulsed to find out it was his tongue wrapped around my neck. I brought down my fist on it and the man wailed in pain. His tongue rolled back to his mouth. Two hands gripped my arms and roughly pulled me to my feet. A third man was advancing with hunger in his eyes. I kicked him on the groin before he got any closer and writhed from the other’s grasp, but they were strong.
“Little bitch.” The one I kicked cursed. “Your rough act turns me on...” His hands fumbled with his pants.
I wasn’t going down so easily. I braced myself to kick again.
“Don’t you dare!”
The man was on the ground the next minute and Apex was standing on his place, with his arm outstretch.
“Who the hell are you!” the man on the ground shouted.
I stomped on the feet of the ones who were holding me, their grip loosened, and I raised my arms and slipped through their grasp. I turned with my leg outstretched, hitting them behind their knee. They buckled to the ground. Apex hit them when they tried to stand.
Still, the other two advanced. Apex formed a fist and ran straight to them.
“Apex stop!” I called after him.
But he didn’t stop and I felt his sunset taste being overcome with that of the nothingness of a black hole. It was a taste that made me feel empty and lonely and angry. He rain down fists on the man who had tried to advance on me while the others watched, transfixed at Apex’s rage. I sprinted to him, grabbed his arm, and turned him to face me.
“I said stop!” I shouted at his face.
His orange eyes were bulging with fury uncommon of him. The man scuttled away and I found my hands leaving his arm and backing away.
“What’s up with you?”
His comforting taste of sunset returned. “Nothing.” There was a frown on his face. “Don’t do stupid things like that, I can’t guarantee I’ll be there to protect you.”
“I don’t need you to protect me, I can defend myself.”
“Because I want to protect you!”
I was startled by the force in his voice. I could taste sunset and emptiness struggling for his mind. Something possessed my legs to run after him, to wrap my arms around him, and to lay my head on the nook of his shoulder. We stood there, motionless. He not telling me to go away, I not going away.
“Please Apex, don’t bend to the will of your demons.”